Biking to work good for health, environment

Celebrate Bike to Work and School Day on May 15

 

photo by Isaac Bonnell

Bellis Fair Mall manager Dennis Curtis (left) and Bellingham Deputy Police Chief David Doll commute together from Ferndale every day of the week, weather permitting. For Curtis, 48, bike commuting has helped him lose 50 pounds in two years and he says he’s in the best shape of his adult life.

 

Every morning, Bellis Fair Mall manager Dennis Curtis and Bellingham Deputy Police Chief David Doll meet around 7:15 — not for coffee or to talk about business, but to ride to work together.

Both Curtis and Doll live in Ferndale and bike commute down Northwest Avenue into Bellingham. They both started riding their bikes to work around the same time two years ago, but commuting together was happenstance, Curtis said.

“We commute in the same direction and he passed me a couple times going up the hill,” Curtis said. “We eventually struck up a conversation and decided to commute together. Now we’re able to push each other.”

Curtis was first inspired by a co-worker to ride into work. The 16-mile round trip seemed daunting at the time, so he started by just riding on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays to get himself into shape for riding every day. For him, the major benefit of bike commuting is his health.

“There are lots of benefits, but the health benefit has meant the most to me. I’m in the best shape of my adult life,” said Curtis, 48, who has lost 50 pounds since he started riding to work. “There’s this perception that only environmentalists bike to work and that you’re out there to save the world. But it’s not just people who are out to save the world who are commuting by bike — there are a lot of business people, too. And when I look at what it’s done to my health, the benefits to the environment are almost secondary.”

 

Biking tips

When fuel prices were nearing record highs, it just seemed natural that more people would turn to their bikes for transportation. Now, fuel prices have dropped with the recession, but Doll said he still sees a lot of people commuting on two wheels.

“Since last summer, I’ve seen more bike commuters and I think it’s growing,” Doll said. “It’s a good way to get your heart pumping and it’s a good way to release some stress after work.”

For those contemplating bike commuting, here are some things to think about:

  • First, get started. “Start out slow — go just one day a week. The important part is to start,” Curtis said. “Eight miles seemed daunting to me when I started, but now it’s just routine.”
  • Invest in safety equipment including a helmet, reflective clothing, and lights if you are riding at night. The most important part is to be seen by cars, Doll said. “As you get more bike commuters out there, people get more used to seeing bike commuters.” Until then, make sure you are visible.
  • Plan ahead for your day. You may be surprised by how little you need to bring with you. “I keep dress shoes here at work and I pack a lunch,” Curtis said. “When I first started I was folding a bunch of clothes into a bike bag, which I discovered was just extra weight.”
  • Carry repair tools, like tire levers and a spare tube. And stop to help a fellow biker: “I always stop if someone is broken down to make sure they have enough equipment,” Doll said.
  • Obey the rules of the road, including speed limits and stop signs. “Always be aware that something could jump out in front of you, like a ball or a dog,” Doll said. “If you ride your bike defensively like you drive your car defensively, you’ll be fine.”

 

Commuter camaraderie

At Bellingham Cold Storage, commuting by bike or bus has become a unifying cause for many employees, said education and training coordinator Karen Hollingsworth.

“In 1999, we had one person who took the bus. It has grown from that to where almost half of us take another mode of transportation,” Hollingsworth said said of the staff of about 125. “It helps when they see our treasurer bike to work or our president carpool to work. It has become a part of our corporate culture.”

Ten years ago, Bellingham Cold Storage began encouraging employees to take alternative transportation and rewarding those who did. On every timecard there is a space for employees to show how they got to work, and this information is tracked through the payroll. This allows Hollingsworth to track how many employees are biking or taking the bus.

A couple of times a year, the company recognizes one randomly chosen “smart commuter” with a $25 gift card to Mallard Ice Cream and a brief bio in the company newsletter. Small rewards and recognition are much appreciated, Hollingsworth said, and have been key in getting employees excited about their commute.

“It doesn’t have to cost very much,” she said. “I also give out boxes of Cracker Jack.”

Bike commuting can also create connections outside of the workplace. Much like motorcyclists, bike commuters are known for waving at other bike commuters.

“When you commute by car, you may happen to see the same people in the same car, but you don’t feel any connection to them,” Curtis said. “But when you’re bike commuting, you feel a sense of camaraderie with them. I see about half a dozen people going the other way, from Bellingham to Ferndale. I don’t know any of their names or where they work, but we wave at each other.”

And when you do know their names, it makes it that much better.

“You get good friendships along the way. Dennis and I have become good buds,” Doll said.

 

Bike to Work and School Day

In 1956, the League of American Bicyclists declared May as National Bike Month and the third Friday of the month as Bike to Work and School Day. Bellingham hosted its first organized celebration in 1998.

This year, Bike to Work and School Day celebrations will be held in Bellingham and around the county on May 15, and for the first time, all of the public schools will be hosting an event, Last year, more than 7,500 people participated. Stop at one of the 30 “celebration stations” around town for refreshments and prizes. Additional festivities continue through the day with the annual City Hall Tricycle Race at noon, an evening celebration at Boundary Bay Brewery from 5 to 7 p.m., and a kids’ celebration at Mallard Ice Cream. For more information visit the Mount Baker Bicycle Club Web site, www.mtbakerbikeclub.org.

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